Saturday, March 28, 2015

Nashville – Part Three

One of the first places I visited in Nashville was a Christian bookstore. I wasn’t going to write about this until I sat down to write a piece for the blog, I was going to write about Joe and Sally or about Music Row, but I got to thinking about the bookstore.

I can’t tell you much about the bookstore, other than the fact that it was one of the first places I visited; “back in the day” as they say, when I arrived in a new place one of the first things I did was to find a Christian bookstore. I recall visiting people in Tucson back in the day and visiting a bookstore, and I remember that after arriving in San Francisco (also back in the day) with virtually no money, that after obtaining money that I went to the Christian bookstore and bought books. In San Francisco this was a marvel to my roommate because I had been without money for so long that he naturally assumed I’d spend it on things other than books.   

Even without money, slowly walking through a Christian bookstore was food to my soul, picking up and browsing through a book here and there, planning my next book purchase. Some people talk about cars or boats or houses they’ve bought – I talk about books. Erasmus reportedly said, “When I have money I buy books, if there is anything left over I buy food.” I wish Erasmus lived next door to me. 

Sad to say it is hard for me to be in a Christian bookstore today – the hype, the self-centeredness of the books, the unashamed marketing and retailing, the personality cults of authors and speakers, and the Biblically- shallow content of much of the material. And then there is all the “Jesus junk” – trinkets of every description…it’s a wonder anyone takes us seriously. What was once food to my soul now gives my soul indigestion, what was once nutritious is now toxic.

There is still great Christian writing to be read, both classic and contemporary – the problem is that, whereas back in the day it could be found in local Christian bookstores, today most of it must be purchased online. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Nashville - Part Two

There were six of us in the kitchen at Ireland’s Steak and Biscuits, five cooks and a dishwasher. Tony the dishwasher always had a smile on his face, was always happy - I can still see his face after all these years - over forty that’s an enduring smile. Tony was around eighteen years old - I hope he didn’t end up in Vietnam...a nice kid.

Then there was Miss Irene, she did salads and sandwiches at the other end of the kitchen. She knew I loved tuna fish and so everytime she was about to make a new batch of tuna salad she’d ask me if I wanted what was left of the current batch - I never turned her down. Miss Irene was in her 50s, short and slightly overweight - and she too nearly always had a smile.

Hazel was tall and slender, in her 40s. She had long hair, down to her shoulders. She didn’t smile all that much, and her face had the lines of life etched in them. They were etched in her forehead, etched in her cheeks; her eyes were deep, when she looked at you she looked at you, she didn’t look past you, she didn’t look to the side, she looked at you - and she thought about what she was looking at. She thought about what she said and she thought about what she heard. I didn’t realize it when I first arrived, but Hazel had me under a microscope; she watched my every move, she listened to my every word; she just wasn’t listening to what I said but how I said it.

Then there were Joe and Sally - they were a pair, that is, they lived together. Hazel, Joe, Sally, and I were the grill cooks; steaks, ham, whatever else was on the menu those days - if it had to be cooked then we cooked it. I mainly did steak and biscuits and ham and biscuits; five biscuits (as I recall) with steak (or ham) in them, hot off the grill, with a side of fries.

Tony, Miss Irene, Hazel, Joe, Sally; they were my family while I was in Nashville. Mr. and Mrs. Franklin, who trusted me and rented me a room, they were also somewhat like family, but I didn’t see them often. I worked, came home, slept, did my laundry in their laundry room, and went back to work. After closing the kitchen and cleaning it up I didn’t get home until midnight or 1:00 AM - so I was usually pretty tired and slept late, going back to work around 2:00 or 3:00 PM for the dinner shift, I always worked the night shift.

All of my family in Nashville was African-American. I really didn’t think of them as being black and myself as being white, I honestly didn’t think of it. I just knew that I worked with some pretty nice people and lived in the home of some pretty nice people. I suppose the Franklin’s and my coworkers all knew I was white, I know that Hazel knew I was white, but more on that later.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Playing the Numbers or Giving Thanks?

As I was checking out of Home Depot the cashier said, “Oh, the transaction number that just came up is my birthdate, they say when something like that happens it means you ought to start playing that number.”

“Well,” I said, “instead of playing the number we could give God thanks for our lives and thank Him that He knew us before we were born, and thank Him that He has a purpose for our lives, and thank Him that He loves us. Being thankful is more important than having money.”

“Yes, that’s true,” she replied.

We are called to challenge cultural assumptions with the love of Jesus, to share His hope, to share His Gospel.

Earlier in the week I talked to a young woman at Panera. She was fixing her coffee as I was pouring mine. I asked her how I could pray for her, She said, “Pray that I will keep my faith, I’m struggling to hold onto it. The stuff of life, all of the details, all of the things going on - they are so hard to keep up with and they get me down.”

The hope the world offers is elusive; pleasure, vacations, money, prestige, power, fame - when you do grab it it disappears - it is an equal opportunity deceiver. People need us to say, “Wait, there is something better, there is Someone better.”

Jesus tells us that He is the bread of life and that when we partake of Him that we will never be hungry again. Jesus tells us that He will put the water of life within us and that we will never thirst again. We’ve got the answer to the world’s thirst for love and purpose, the answer to the world’s hunger for meaning and hope. How cruel it is to have bread and not offer it to the hungry, how heartless to have abundant water in the desert and not share it freely with others.

“Holy Father, help us to see people as they are inside, not as they appear to our natural eyes. Help us to live with a desire to be transformed by Your Holy Spirit and not to desire to be conformed to the world. Help us to know that all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not from You, but is opposed to You and is passing away. Help us to help those who do not yet know You - to live as Jesus lived on this earth; to live as Jesus lives in us today.”

Monday, March 23, 2015

Nashville - Part One

Have you ever arrived in a town where you didn’t know anyone and had virtually no money? I guess I’ve done that more than once; as I probably shared when I first started this blog, George Will and I showed up in New York City in 1967 with less than a $100.00 - oh the simplicity of faith unencumbered by rationalizations.

Years ago I got off the bus in Nashville, TN with just a few dollars; it’s been so long ago I don’t know how much I had, but it wasn’t much - I mean it really wasn’t much. There are two things about this story which will tell you right off that I was not exactly what you’d call prudent or realistic in those days; the first is that I bought a bus ticket to a place where I knew no one, and the second is that I went to Nashville to try to interest folks in some songs I’d written. (Yes, yes, I can hear some of you questioning just how realistic or prudent I’ve been most of my life, and upon reflection I’d be hard-pressed to argue with you).

As near as I can recall, after I got off the bus I bought a paper and looked for rooms to rent. Now mind you that I didn’t have a clue about Nashville, about where I was or about where any of the addresses were that I was reading in the paper, so I must of found a map and started walking - I remember the walking but I don’t remember the map - but since there was no GPS in those days and since I’m not a Monarch butterfly navigating by some mysterious way, I must have used a map.

My plan was to ask people to rent me a room with the promise that I would find a job and pay them two-weeks' rent on my first payday.  Right now you’re thinking that you can’t believe what you just read, but the reason I wrote it is because it is true. As I write and as I read what I’ve written I can’t believe it either, but I have it on good authority that it was as I have written it.

It should be no surprise to you that my plan was not well received by those who had rooms to rent. However, I was not discouraged in my quest for lodging and continued working my way through the “Rooms to Rent” section of the newspaper.

Eventually I found myself in an old section of Nashville with large wood-frame houses with long and wide porches. I located the address which was advertising a room to rent, knocked on the door, and told the owner who I was and what I planned to do. Perhaps it will be a surprise to you to learn that the owners, a husband and wife, agreed to my plan and took me in.

My attention then turned to the “Help Wanted” section of the paper. Before the day was out I walked into Ireland’s Steak and Biscuits and landed a job as a cook on the evening shift. Prior to writing this piece I checked the Internet for Ireland’s Steak and Biscuits but it appears that they’ve gone out of business, too bad, I would have enjoyed reading the menu.

As I reflect back upon my first day in Nashville I am not only amazed that God in His mercy found this idiot a place to live, but that the family that took me in was African-American. I am not amazed at the kindness of an African-American family, for I have received much kindness from African-Americans throughout my life; nevertheless, this was during the Civil Rights Era, an era filled with violence and hatred and mistrust, and that black family was willing to take the word of a white stranger that if they’d trust him for two weeks’ rent that he’d pay them on his first paycheck. I wonder if they thought they’d never see me again when that first paycheck came?

I think I’ll write a bit more about Nashville...stay tuned...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Potatoes in the Ground and Artificial Gardens

This morning we planted potatoes and peas. Tomorrow, the Lord willing, we plan to plant beets and radishes. I need to go to Home Depot to purchase some garden soil to top off our raised beds prior to planting the radishes and beets; this morning it was peas and potatoes. The potatoes we planted are from last year’s crop that wintered in our basement.

Over the winter I covered the raised beds with leaves and the past few days I’ve been turning the leaves into the soil, nothing like good soil. I’ve noticed worms in the soil this spring, a good sign – aerate little worms, aerate, no wonder you’re called “nature’s plough”.

As I turned the soil I thought about Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, the soil determined the fruitfulness of the seed (though in the third instance surrounding weeds were also an issue). We do so little heart preparation and too much technical preparation – we want Sunday mornings at church to be technically perfect, it matters not that our hearts may not be prepared, it matters not that we don’t give the soil of our hearts time to absorb the Word of God or time to submit to the Spirit of God. We don’t want “white space” the way a radio or television doesn’t want white space, we don’t want quiet, we want to move things along.

It is inconceivable that someone would plant artificial plants in a garden; it is not that inconceivable that our churches just may be artificial gardens. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What’s that Sound?

I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. Our basset mix Lina went behind the sectional in the family room and didn’t want to come back out into the room. Finally she peaked her head around the corner and slowly ventured back out into the room, looking this way and that.

After I went out into the kitchen where Vickie was preparing breakfast I saw Lina tentatively make her way down the hallway toward the kitchen, again looking this way and that. She came a few steps into the kitchen and then turned around and went back into the family room. I was particularly concerned with this strange behavior because it appeared to be disorientation, the kind of disorientation I saw in Mitzi (another of our puppies) years ago after a seizure.

Then it dawned on me that she wasn’t disoriented but rather was afraid of something and wasn’t sure where she could go. Vickie was making waffles and the waffle iron emits a beep when waffles are done – much the same as our invisible fence transmits a beep to Lina when she is nearing the perimeter of her yard. Lina was hearing beeps where she shouldn’t hear beeps and it frightened her – she didn’t know where she could safely go, all of a sudden her own home wasn’t safe. She knew that if she persisted in the direction of beeps in her yard that she would receive a “correction” and she didn’t want a “correction” in her house. No wonder behind the sectional seemed like a safe place to hide – that was about as far from the kitchen as she could get. Now we’ve learned to make waffles when Lina is outside.

Our puppies are blessed because for all intents and purposes they don’t know fear; we are stern when we need to be, and we can scold when we need to make a point in the moment; but our home is a safe place for our puppies. How much more should the family of God be a safe place for us all? We need to know the difference between the perimeter and house of God – crossing the perimeter can be dangerous and painful – we have the invisible fence to protect our dogs, not to harm them. But inside our home, well…we want that to be their home too, a home without fear, a home without disorientation, a safe place.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Extraneous Bible

I was talking to someone the other day about a book the person’s small group is studying. After the person shared with me the content of the chapter they studied I asked the person, “What does the Bible have to say about that?”

The person replied, “We’re just studying the book.”

How can this be? How can it be that a church small group is studying a book without using the Bible as a filter for thinking about the book? It can be because that’s the way Christians live. Where are the Bereans? (Acts 17:11).

Saturday, March 7, 2015


March 17 is approaching and if I’m here I will be there and I’m ready to be there. I don’t know how many I’ll get in the ground after I get home from work, but I’m going to give it a start and see how far I can go.

We plant potatoes on Saint Patrick’s Day and I can’t wait, but I guess I’ll have to wait, but I don’t want to wait, but I will. Maybe I’ll put batteries in our old boom box and take it to the garden and play bagpipe music while I plant.

Time to order seeds. Time to prepare garden beds. Soon time to plant cold weather crops. Time to get dirt beneath fingernails.

We are oh so ready to plant potatoes. Maybe I’ll have a Guinness to toast St. Patrick! 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cletus and the Pole Barn

Cousin Cletus called me yesterday.

“Bob, I’ve got a problem.”

“Hey Cletus, how y’doing?”

“Bob, I’ve got a problem. I went to pull my truck out of the pole barn and drive it up to the house while the snow was melting. Well, about halfway up the hill I started to slip and slide and zigged and zagged. So I backed her down the hill and gave it another try but still couldn’t make it.

“So I decided that I’d back it into the pole barn, that way when the snow and ice melted a bit more I could pull it right out and try it again. But when I was backing into the barn I knocked one of the poles out and the roof started coming down.

“Fortunately I had 10-foot step ladder setup in that end of the barn and the roof caught on that just before the roof hit the truck cab. After I caught my breath and said a prayer I slid over to the passenger’s side and slowly opened the door and got out of the truck.

“Well, I could see that the step ladder might not hold that corner of the roof for very long, it was kind of going teeter-totter, so I ran into the tool shed and grabbed a rope. I tied one end of the rope through a rafter in the corner of the roof, and then I got another step ladder and set it up next to that big maple tree not far from that corner of the pole barn, I figured I’d take the other end of the rope and tie it to one of the big branches high up in the tree and that that should hold the roof until I could figure out something else.

“Anyway, the step ladder didn’t quite get me to where I wanted to go, I was a few feet shy of the big branch. So I grabbed hold of a lower branch and got up on that, just above the ladder. Then I got onto one more branch, and finally I was able to get the rope around the big branch and tie it tight.

I said, “Well that’s great. I’m glad it worked out for you Cletus. How are you going to repair the roof?”

“Well Bob, that ain’t my immediate concern. Because you see when I was climbing back down the tree to get to the ladder…when I put my foot on the ladder to transfer my weight to it, the ladder tipped over. The only good news is that my cell phone was in my pocket so I called you for help. Can you come over here and put this ladder back up so I can get down? The wife and kids are all out of town today and I could sure use some help.”

“Sorry Cletus, I’d love to help, but I’m out of town today too. Tell you what, I’ll call you in the morning and if you’re still up in the tree I’ll bring breakfast by and give you a hand.”